Peter looked across the car at Assumpta. He didn't know how much longer he could endure this awkward silence. He wiped some of the fog off the inside of the car window with the sleeve of his jacket, little good that it would do. The night was bitterly cold, but so beautiful. Thousands of stars shone down on them. The tension in his tiny car nearly as thick as the frigid air. Silently he cursed Brendan, Siobhan and Michael for maneuvering him into to this situation in the first place. If they had been even marginally prepared, none of this would have been necessary. Imagine, staging a sit-in, in this weather without warm clothes, food or even the vaguest of plans. If both he and Assumpta hadn't decided to come to the rescue with sandwiches and drinks they surely would have spent a wretched night. And what thanks had they received? Only left to hold the fort, while the three of them went home to change and wreak havoc on Brian's dream. It just wasn't fair. To top everything off for weeks now things had been very awkward between Assumpta and himself. They fought constantly. She had even stopped calling him Peter, only referring to him derisively as Father. It was like a slap in the face every time she said it. And now the two of them were stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, alone, for who knew how long.
Fires burning in barrels lit the clearing and gave flickering illumination to the inside of the car. Peter suddenly realized how close Assumpta was. He glanced over at her. She was beautiful. But, then he already knew that. He saw her face every time he closed his eyes. He consciously fought the urge to reach for her, touch her face, her hand. He took a deep controlling breath and wondered if she had any idea. She smiled suddenly.
"I was just remembering when I was 16.There was a priest in the parish that used to sneak up on parked cars and shine a torch through the windows."
"Looking for..." Peter said naively.
"What do you think?"
"What would you do, if Fr Mac shone a torch through our window?"
"Tell him to mind his own business." He said firmly.
"You surprise me, but then you always do." Assumpta looked closely at him. Her expression changed, softened.
"I was just thinking..." She shrugged, the implication clear .
The two of them in a passionate kiss flashed before Peter's eyes. As always, he pushed it aside. His mind whirled in confusion. It had only been a few minutes since she had said, "We don't really have a lot to say to each other, do we." Had he been sitting here beside her, too long? Was he reading things into her words that he wanted to hear, or was Assumpta trying to tell him that she thought of them together as well? Everything was so complicated. There was always so much left unsaid. She shivered.
"Are you cold?" He took her hand in both of his. The image of the two of them intruding again.
"Yes...no." She stuttered in shock. She looked on in disbelief as Peter held her hand.
"You feel cold."
Uncertainly, he pressed her hand to his forehead. He held it there for a few seconds. When he released it, she knew that something had changed. Peter's eyes met hers, he leaned towards her. He was going to kiss her. She was certain of it. Her heart began to beat faster in anticipation. Panic flooded her. What would happen to them, if they crossed that fragile line. Peter's carefully constructed world would collapse. He would never be able to look at her again. She couldn't allow that to happen. She had to protect Peter.
"Peter, this is wrong..." She whispered
He stopped, the hurt, plain on his face. Why did he never do the right thing with her? Assumpta couldn't bear the look on his face. She put her hand to his cheek and gently pulled him to her. Soft quick kisses, a longer one. The sounds of an approaching car and headlights suddenly lighting the interior of Peter's car startled them apart. Peter looked at her in dismay as he reluctantly climbed out of the car.
Michael, Brendan and Siobhan piled out of the car carrying shovels and cardboard boxes.
"Any trouble?" Michael called.
Peter shook his head. "All quiet."
Good grief, it looked to Michael as if they had been fighting again. Maybe he could smooth things over in the morning. If only they were a normal couple, things would be so much easier.
"Hope you were paying attention." Brendan joked. Michael cringed. Leave it to Brendan.
Peter looked guiltily at Assumpta. "I was."
Assumpta gathered up her things. "I'm off home."
"You can go too, Peter. And thank you, both." Michael gave a final wave, before turning to join Brendan and Siobhan. He felt responsible for whatever had happened between them. It really was too bad. He wondered if they realized how perfectly matched they were for one another. What was that saying? Oh yes. In a perfect world...
Peter watched Michael catch up with Brendan and Siobhan before he went over to Assumpta's van. She was stowing her things and wondering what might have happened if they hadn't been interrupted. She could still feel the way he looked at her, the touch of his lips.
She turned around quickly to find Peter standing very close. She glanced nervously at the retreating figures of Siobhan, Michael and Brendan. If they suspected anything...Her emotions churned. She looked at him, wanting him to say something reassuring.
"Sumpta, I'm sorry."
The whole world crashed in around her. Was he already wishing that nothing had happened between them. Well, a few kisses, what did it matter? Too much to her.
"Good night, Peter." She said, smiling sadly at him. She climbed into the van and drove off.
The night quickly closed in on Peter. He stared into the burning barrel for several minutes. What had gone wrong? For the first time since he left the seminary, he hadn't allowed the church to make his decisions and now...Assumpta had just driven off. Didn't she have any idea what kind of choice he had made tonight?
Peter sat in his livingroom going over and over the evening in his mind. Events were getting tumbled together. He agonized over his stupidity. How had he let himself believe that she returned his feelings. She probably hated him now. He couldn't stand the thought of it. She mattered too much to him. He needed her. Her friendship, if that was all she could accept. He looked at his watch. It was nearly dawn, but he had to talk to her, apologize. If he waited, he knew he would lose his nerve and what was wrong between them would begin to fester. He stood with the receiver in his hand for several minutes trying to work up his courage. When the phone finally began to ring, he panicked. Perhaps, it was a mistake after all.
"Sumpta... I'm sorry it's so late."
"Peter!... It's all right... I wasn't asleep...What's wrong?"
"I had to talk to you...about tonight."
"Peter, it's not necessary."
"Sumpta, it is...I don't want you to hate me."
"I don't hate you, Peter. I couldn't."
"I shouldn't have let," his voice breaking with emotion, "my feelings for you get out of control like that. I ca..."
"Peter..." she interrupted
"Sumpta, please, don't hate me. I couldn't stand it."
"Peter, I love you." She said softly, not sure if she wanted him to hear it or not.
Peter couldn't believe it was possible. "I'm coming over!" He said hanging up the phone and racing out the door.
"Peter! No." Assumpta said to the dial tone. She stood looking at the phone in her hand. Oh God, what had she let them in for.
Peter was out of breath by the time he reached the pub. He and Assumpta just stood there looking at each other, uncertain what to expect.
"Did you mean it?"
Assumpta nodded. Peter held out his arms, she walked into them. Peter kissed the top of her head.
"I was so afraid...."
"So was I..."
"I've been in love with you for so long..." He whispered.
Assumpta took his face in her hands, her eyes searching his. "Then why?..."
A night filled with so much worry and revelation had to take its toll. Niamh took one look at Assumpta and knew something had to be done. She handed her the baby and pulled her into the kitchen. A cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on...set the world right. She watched Assumpta playing with Kieran as the kettle boiled.
"What has Peter done this time?'
Assumpta colored. "Peter! What makes you think Peter has done anything?" Purposely avoiding Niamh's eyes.
Niamh shook her head. Poor deluded...did she honestly think her best friend didn't know how she felt, not to mention half the regulars in the pub. "When you are this upset, it's always Peter."
Assumpta was stunned. She sought desperately for something to say, but nothing came. She was on the verge of blurting out the truth when the phone rang. She jumped to answer it, carefully trying to balance Kieran and the phone.
"I love you." Niamh watched with interest the sudden change in Assumpta. Well, well, well.
Assumpta smiled warmly into the phone. "I thought you might have changed your mind."
"No chance of that."
Niamh reached for Kieran. "Let me take the baby, so you can talk." She said taking him and going into the pub, carefully closing the kitchen door behind her.
"You're not alone, I take it."
"Niamh just took the baby into the bar. You're not going to believe what she just said."
"She thought I was upset."
"A little worried, maybe...But she wanted to know what You had done?"
"She said, it's always Peter when I'm upset."
"Yes, I guess it is."
"I'll try to do better."
Assumpta looked down the bar at Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig, dawdling over the dregs of long finished pints. Why didn't they just go home? She desperately needed some time on her own. She had to think, to escape the pressure that was building in her head. Yesterday morning her life had been turned upside down when Peter had coming racing down the street at dawn to tell her he loved her. She had stood there in his arms, shaking, not knowing what came next. The entire world changed forever in that instant. She looked at the clock. The evening was barely crawling by. She wondered where Peter was...She hadn't seen him since just before lunch time. They had stolen a few moments in the kitchen, before being interrupted by a bus full of tourists clammering for a pint of Irish heritage. Life in this pub was beginning to wear very thin. She didn't know how much longer she could take it. Fionn began to whine in the kitchen. He must need to go out. She could have just sent him out the back garden, but tonight the idea of a walk appealed to her. A long walk along the river might just clear her head. She looked down the bar. They were still there.
"Have you no homes to go to?"
Brendan looked at the clock. What was she on about, this time? She had been acting very strange all day.
"Assumpta! It's no where near to closing."
Fionn let out another loud whine from the kitchen. Assumpta rolled her eyes. "Give me strength!" she mumbled under her breath. She walked purposefully over to the clock and advanced the hands to closing time.
"Now it is. Out with you or I'll call the Garda."
Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig exchanged looks of surprise. Surely she couldn't be serious.
Assumpta pushed open the kitchen door. "Come on baby, let's go for a walk."
"Assumpta!" protested Padraig.
She gave him a very stern look and pointed at the door. Siobhan's mouth open to protest as well.
"Not one word!"
Brendan picked up his anorak and held the door for the others. "What is wrong with everyone lately...Peter nearly bit my head off this afternoon and now you are throwing out 3 paying customers ages before closing...Are you two STILL fighting?"
She didn't speak, she just stared at him as he went out the door.
Fionn danced happily at Assumpta's feet they crossed the street and went down the riverbank. Assumpta took a deep breath. Suddenly the air was sweeter and her mind began to clear. A huge burden seemed to lift from her shoulders. Whatever happened now was Peter's decision. She looked up at the sky. It was a beautiful night. She wished that Peter were with her. They so rarely had a chance to be alone. Fionn stopped suddenly, looked up the towards the trees and growled. After a few seconds, the dog's tail began to wag furiously as Peter clambered down the embankment.
"You closed early."
"I couldn't take it any longer. I sent everyone home."
"That must have gone over well."
Assumpta took his hand, "Tonight, for the first time since I came home from University...I wished I were free."
Peter felt a wave of panic. "Free?"
"Yup, free of the pub, free of Ballykay, free of everything!"
"Free of me?" he asked not wanting to know the answer.
Assumpta was surprised. She put her arm around his waist and leaned into him. "No...not free of you." She went up on her tiptoes and kissed his chin. "Free to be with you."
Relieved, Peter put his arm around her. They walked for sometime enjoying the anonymity of the night. For once there were no prying eyes.
Peter cuddled closer to Assumpta, his body warm and reassuring against her skin. He nestled his face next to her ear and softly murmured her name in his sleep. Assumpta smiled, everything was so perfect, she hated to break the spell. She relished the luxury of Peter's arms a few seconds longer before the glowing red numbers of the bedside clock finally intruded, forcing her to move. Dawn wasn't far off and she didn't want to risk being seen leaving Peter's house. Assumpta gently lifted Peter's arm and crept carefully out of his bed. She tucked the covers around him and kissed his cheek. Watching him laying there asleep she realized that she had never loved anyone as much. Peter pulled the pillow close to his chest and murmured her named again.
God, the room was freezing. She looked quickly about the dark spartan room for her clothes. Where were her clothes? She didn't even see Peter's. Good grief! The livingroom! They must still be in the livingroom. Assumpta colored at the thought. It had started innocently enough, with the walk along the river until even Fionn had begun to notice the cold. Reluctant to let the night end they had stopped by Peter's house to sit by the fire and talk. But, they hadn't done much talking. One kiss led quickly to another and another. He began to kiss her neck and suddenly they were undressing each other. They had frantically made love right there, in front of the fire. Assumpta was shocked that she had let herself get so carried away. Afterwards, there had been an awkward moment of silence. She had been afraid that Peter would be upset over breaking his vows, maybe even blame her, not that he had been an innocent bystander. Instead, he had taken her hand and led her upstairs to his tiny bed. They had made love again, before he had fallen asleep holding her. Any doubts she may have had were erased. Peter may have been celibate since he became a priest but it was evident that he hadn't always been.
She tiptoed downstairs and gathered up her clothes. As she passed the window she remembered the furor Kathleen had caused by peeking in that same window the night Peter and Jenny were having dinner. It occurred to her that if Kathleen had been peeking last night, the shock would have probably killed her and Peter would have to explain the dead body outside his window. Assumpta was tying her shoes when Peter, wearing a faded flannel robe, came down the stairs. He smiled uncertainly.
"Sumpta, we have to talk."
Assumpta's stomach fell as if she had been on a roller coaster. Somewhere in the back of her mind she had always been afraid that Peter the Priest would over ride Peter the man. She just hadn't expected it so soon.
She took a deep breath and blew it out. "Sure."
He took her hands. "You know that I love you..."
Assumpta nodded, her eyes began to sting. Here it comes, she thought, fear and disappointment bubbling inside her. "But you've decided that last night was a mistake." A single tear rolled down her cheek.
Peter brushed the tear away and lifted her chin. "No...last night was perfect...I've decided that I don't want to wait any longer. I'm going to talk to Fr Mac about leaving the church."
Assumpta could hardly believe it. "Peter, are you sure?"
"Yes," he said pulling her close.
Peter pocketed his car keys and walked towards Fitzgerald's. His meeting with Fr Mac hadn't gone at all the way he had planned. And now he had to tell Assumpta. She would understand his decision. She would definitely understand. God, please let her understand. He opened the pub door. Padraig was the only customer. Assumpta smiled too brightly at him, worry showing through. Peter looked from nervously from Padraig to Assumpta.
"Can I have a word." He said motioning to the kitchen.
Assumpta wasn't sure how she had expected Peter to look when he returned but it definitely wasn't like he did. She was sure that something had gone wrong.
"Let me know if I ever get another customer."
Peter was sitting at the table nervously playing with the salt shaker when she sat down. "How did it go?" she asked, watching him closely.
Peter closed his eyes. "It didn't"
Peter could see the hurt on her face. "It wasn't like that, Sumpta...I had every intention of telling him...I...I still do."
"Then why didn't you?"
"Fr Mac is ill. Michael thinks it's his heart."
"I didn't know he had one."
"All right, is it serious?"
"Enough," he took her hand, "I was afraid our news would kill him."
Peter had spent over an hour on his knees trying to come to terms with what happened now. If he did what was right and confessed his love for Assumpta and resigned from the church the news would probably kill Fr Mac. He could have gone to the Bishop, but the news would still have gotten back to Fr Mac. He didn't want the old priest's death hanging over him and Assumpta. He rationalized his decision. God would be able to forgive him.
"We do what we have to."
"And you and I?"
Peter leaned over and kissed her.
End Part 2 ???